A brief history of blue
When Saturday became a work- free
day, urban families clambered to visit
the seaside particularly in the
summertime. Working boots were
discarded as day trippers wanted shoes
for walking through sand and paddling
in the sea.
At first, cheap cotton canvas topped
shoes with soles made from leather, jute
or rope were used, but these flimsy sea
side shoes wore out quickly, usually
within a day.
After simultaneous discovery of rubber
vulcanisation by Howard and Goodyear in
the US; and Thomas Handcock in the UK
a major court case ensued and the former
granted the patent in the US; and
Hancock became the patent holder in the
UK. Henceforth there was intense rivalry
between the two countries to produce
rubber based products.
By 1876, seaside promenaders sported the latest canvas topped rubber soled shoes called
plimsolls (New Liverpool Rubber Company). A rubber band was wrapped around the seam
joining the upper to the sole making the new shoes more robust. The similarity to the new
load lines painted on boats meant the shoes were called plimsolls.
White plimsolls wore well, kept the feet cool in the summer and dried quickly after a paddle
in the sea. The canvas could be painted with chalk white which give the outward impression
from a distance these were expensive white croquet shoes.
Plimsoll was quickly adapted to popular
sports another working class pastime
encouraged by the ruling class at this
time. Keeping workers and their families
amused in their leisure time was
important especially at a politically
volatile time in history.
In the UK, Lawn Tennis players (circa
1860) wore low cut plimsolls with
patented sole patterns to improve grip
and prevent destroying the lawns. In the
US, high top canvas plimsolls (used to
protect the ankles), were introduced to
the new team games of baseball (1846)
and basketball (1891).
The evolutionary process
As each recreational sport adopted the
plimsoll it was adapted to the specific
needs of the game. The addition of a
simple rubber strip at the end of the shoe
stopped the big toe nail appearing
through the canvas. Gradually the
anatomy of the modern sport shoe (or
trainer) began to emerge. Even the British
Army, issued plimsolls to their serving
men and a pair of plimsolls (gym shoes)
The Rubber Industry
The rubber industry was booming and
became very competitive. Popularity of
cycling meant many companies started
producing bicycle tyres and by the time
the popularity of cycling had waned,
development of the car industry brought
with it a need for car tyres made form
rubber. The United States Rubber
Company saw the market potential and
bought out their smaller rivals, many of
which were already exporting sport shoes
Hi-top sneakers were customed by Irving Watkinson
who designed a pair for Dr. James Naismith the man
who invented basketball. An iconic feature of those
early sneakers was the addition of a rubber ball
logo at the lateral ankle of the shoe.
In the same year, the Colchester Rubber Company
which produced them was taken over and it took
almost 20 years before Spalding introduced their
basketball shoes in 1907, then others followed.
The Converse Rubber Corporation introduced The
All-Star shoe in 1917) which subsequently became
the evergreen iconic basketball shoe. In reality this
was a reinvention of the original Colchester sneaker.
The Rise of Physical Culture
After the Great War, the market for
sneakers grew exponentially when it was
realised the fitness levels of the working
class was low. Sports and athletics
increasingly became a way to
demonstrate Christian Muscularity or
moral fibre and patriotism.
Physical Culture swept the West and
athletic shoes increasingly were used for
leisure and outdoor activities and when
physical education lessons were made
compulsory in schools, children had to
Between the wars, the new Olympic
Competition became a fashion catwalk, and
focal point for international trade. Shoe
manufactures quickly modified their
footwear to the specific needs of popular
After his return from World War I, Adolf
"Adi" Dassler started making sports shoes in
his mother’s kitchen, then went on to
establish one of the leading athletic shoe
Chuck Taylor All-Stars
In America, the market for sneakers grew
steadily as young boys lined up to buy
white hi top sneakers endorsed by sporting
heroes like Chuck Taylor for $1.00 (or $20
The famous basketball player wore
Converse All-Stars and they became so
popular they were called, Chuck Taylor All-
Stars, or ‘Chucks.’ Chuck Taylor's name was
added to the circle patch. Ventilation
eyelets were added in 1932 and the classic
black All-Star sold until the 40s.
By WWII, Chuck Taylor sneakers became the
"official" sneaker of the U.S. armed forces.
Tennis and Badminton Shoes
International tennis and badminton had
become major drawcards and customised
tennis shoes began to appear circa 1936.
A French brand, Spring Court, marketed
the first canvas tennis shoe featuring
signature eight ventilation channels on a
vulcanised natural rubber sole.
Jack Purcell (Canadian badminton
champion) adapted tennis shoes to his
sport which was played on hard wooden
International double tennis champion,
Adrian Quist, convinced Dunlop Australia to
make a plain white tennis shoe with
patterned herringbone sole in 1939.
The added grip on the lawn surface made
the Volley OC (Orthopaedically Correct) an
Production continued until the 1970s with
almost no change except the addition of
the iconic green and gold stripe to the heel
in the 1970s.
Dunlop Volleys became standard issue by
the Australian Army and Royal Australian Air
Like the T shirt, service issue plimsolls
(often in various colours) became popular
souvenirs after the War and were highly
prized by the youth of the time. Tennis
shoes were ideal for the dance floor and
dancing to quick tempo Swing and Jive.
The appeal of American sneakers was
confirmed when James Dean was
photographed wearing Jack Purcell’s and
Elvis Presley appeared in Hi top Converse
Chucks and Keds became a by-word for
By the 50s man-made fibres became incorporated and
sneakers merged into trainers. Now more durable,
flexible and hard wearing, cellular foams were added to
increased fit and comfort. When designers began
incorporating a two-colour finish (colourways),
signature sole patterns and brand decals and dashes a
completely new fashion was created.
These were first seen at the Melbourne Olympics worn
by the athletes from behind the Iron Curtain.
Competitors were often filmed ambling about minutes
before competition wearing their trainers then later as if
by magic, won medals in their heats.
Shoe Collectors (Sneaker Freakers)
Celebrity endorsements and sneakers
sponsorships college and professional sports
ensured loyal fans would wear and collect new
At fist sneaker designs affiliated to a particular
sporting celebrity ended with their retiral from
sport. The same model was then passed onto a
new endorser rather than be discontinued, or a
new one created. This created collector interests.
The aftermath of the Space Race was the creation
of an industry dedicated to new synthetic
polymers. What better use to make of these out
of this world materials than sport shoes.
What drives a collector?
The ultimate in secular consumerism
maybe driven in part by the overall desire
to acquire modern objet d’art at
affordable prices. Collectors appreciate
one-off's, limited editions and exclusives.
While previous generations of males
might collect cars from their youth,
Generation X preferred shoes. This is not
entirely male centric and females too,
Limited Editions and Hype marketing
The shelf life of a trendy trainer is short (3
months) and companies like Nike and
adidas are forever introducing new lines.
To add incentive, companies offer "quick
hit" or hype shoes which is a clever
marketing ploy involving the sale of a small
number of limited edition shoes as a special
offer in selected outlets for a limited period
of time only. With minimum advertising
these events are hurriedly communicated
through networks, websites and SMSs.
Sneakerheads range from casual fans of
sneaker fashion to those who buy and sell
shoes like blue chip investments.
Fanatics endure the elements
and camp overnight for their
next purchase of limited
Fresh and Deadstock
Collectors pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars
depending on their cachet. Some wear them, and have
multiple pairs (in case one gets scuffed); whereas others
keep them ‘fresh’ in their boxes, or ‘deadstock’ them in a
bank vault, or on display and always unworn.
Collectors have enormous closets full of trainers designed
by sneakerhead artists who, themselves become
Sneaker Freakers have many dedicated web sites, movies,
books, songs and even radio shows dedicated to sneaker
culture.Dedicated shoe collectors determine what
will sell and companies are obliged to
Michael Jordan shoes (Js) are blue chip
Currently the American market for
deadstock sneakers is estimated at $1
billion, with the thriving resell community
net millions of dollars a year by selling
rare kicks for profit.
By far Michael Jordan shoes (Js) are
considered to be the most expensive at
auction. Recently a pair of his shoes was
sold for $190,373. The previous record
for a pair of game-used sneakers was
again, Jordan’s worn during the "Flu
Game," and sold for $104,765 in 2013.